The UK's Military Flying Training System (MFTS) programme will begin providing instruction to its first students on 20 June, following the acceptance of four converted Beechcraft King Air 350ERs.

Ascent Flight Training took delivery of the new fleet on 9 June, with the type to meet observer training requirements with the Royal Navy's 750 Sqn at RNAS Culdrose, Cornwall. To be named the "Avenger" in RN use, the aircraft will replace the British Aerospace Jetstream T2, operations of which ended in March. Tasks will include preparing observers in areas such as route navigation and the use of tactical sensors.

Now equipped with a Telephonics 1700A maritime search radar, two onboard student consoles and two laptop-based instructor stations, the aircraft will train personnel before their conversion onto the navy's frontline helicopters.

To support this, the King Air has also been equipped with CAE's tactical mission trainer software, which can introduce emulated and simulated inputs, such as the use of electronic support measures equipment.

Royal Navy King Air 350
 © Cobham Aviation Services

Cobham Aviation Services received a roughly £20 million ($32.6 million) contract in July 2009 to convert the King Air fleet at its Bournemouth airport site in Dorset. It started work on its first example in May 2010, before flying a modified aircraft last December. Avenger ZZ503 will be flown to Culdrose on 15 June, with the others to follow by the end of this month.

"These aircraft are going to be delivered on time," said Cobham Aviation Services managing director Des Taylor. "Hopefully that will build a level of confidence in Cobham's ability as part of the Ascent team." The company will provide in-service support for the new fleet for a five-year period starting on 1 July, but Taylor said its goal is to go "hopefully way beyond that".

 RN Avenger - Craig Hoyle
© Craig Hoyle/Flightglobal

Ascent managing director Barry Thornton said the four-strong fleet should also be capable of meeting the MFTS programme's additional multi-engine rear-crew training requirements for the Royal Air Force.

Instructors for the new type will begin operating the aircraft at Culdrose on 1 July, with the first intake of students to undergo basic flying training on the fleet from later this year. This will follow their receipt of ground school, initial flying and elementary navigation training at RAF Barkston Heath in Lincolnshire, including the use of Grob 115Es from the navy's 703 Sqn. Each will then log 50h aboard King Airs.

Despite the use of a smaller fleet than the navy's previous nine Jetstreams, 750 Sqn commanding officer Lt Cdr Nick Armstrong said more students will be trained using the Avengers. The previous training system delivered three courses of 10 students each a year, while the new model will be based on six courses of six each, he said.

Once at full strength the unit will have nine instructor pilots - three navy officers and six Ascent recruits, plus eight naval observers and three from industry.

Source: Flight International